Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Touchin', Squeezin, Paninis!

Problem:  too much provolone cheese left over from a luncheon I catered last week.
Solution:  a great beginning for a flavorful panini!

I am a newcomer to the panini.  I've heard about them, I just didn't 'get it.'  Aren't' they just a grilled sandwich?  And then this bistro opened in my little town.  A bistro that is actually recognized for their cupcakes and other lovely desserts.  The savory menu, I think, is just an offshoot from the sweet menu.  Now, I'm a dessert gal, don't get me wrong.  But from the first instant my teeth sunk into their "Grownup Gourmet Grilled Cheese" panini, breaking through that delicate crunch on the outside, and then the cheesy filling engulfing my mouth with such intense flavors - I was hooked!  Done for!  A fan!  I'm pretty sure there were soft noises involved, as well as an "Oh my gosh!"  Not that anyone at the table could understand me as my mouth was full of food at the time.  But they could see I was enjoying my lunch.  Dessert?  Who needs it?

A panini, which is of Italian origin, is, quite simply, a pressed sandwich.  There are appliances you can get specifically for making them called a 'panini press', but I've also seen them done by placing a heavy pan on top while the sandwich is cooking on a griddle.  To get the full effect of the panini, though, you'd need to turn the sandwich over to get the other side grilled as well.  A press cooks both sides at once, which is helpful when you get a little crazy with your filling ingredients.

I could have just used all cheeses on my panini but I found all these guys hanging out in my kitchen so I decided to have them keep the cheese company in my lunch.  

The bread you use for a panini needs to be substantial enough to hold the ingredients as well as withstand the pressure of the press.  Today I chose a sourdough boule, slicing it into 1/2-inch slices.  I thought that grilling my veggies would bring a nice smoky element to the table so I sliced the zucchini, summer squash, and eggplant into 1/4-inch planks and cut the bell pepper into four sides.  After laying them out on a sheet tray, I used a mister and gave them a little shower of extra virgin olive oil and seasoned them with some kosher salt and pepper and took them on out to the grill.

You don't need to leave them over the heat for too long - just enough to give them their grill marks and absorb some smoky flavor.

The peppers went right in to a bowl after the grill and enjoyed a sauna created with plastic wrap over the top to seal in the moisture.  

When you char or roast a bell pepper, the outside skin can become bitter.  And bitterness is not invited to this party!  When they have steamed for about 10 minutes, take them out and use a knife to scrape off the char and the skin.  They are perfectly supple enough for the sandwich but not mush.  As a matter of fact, you'll need to restrain yourself from eating them before they make it to the sandwich.  That's just a kindly word of warning.  Their appeal is THAT strong!

With everything all sliced and grilled you are now ready to assemble your masterpiece.  I started with giving a swipe of pesto across the bread and then slicing a wedge of Laughing Cow cheese horizontally into three pieces and spacing them out across the slice.  I use Laughing Cow because it helps me control my calorie intake while getting the oozy cheesiness that my mouth craves.  I then took some bleu cheese crumbles and sprinkled a little decadence in and around the cheese wedge pieces.  Next came the slices of grilled veggies, arranged so that they didn't tumble off the sandwich.  This is where having them sliced into planks helps!  I topped the grilled veggies with some slices of fresh tomatoes and arugula and then the instigator behind this whole venture - the provolone!  On went the top bread slice and it's press time!

In my case, and my quest for calorie control (somewhat,) I skimmed some butter across the top of the bread.  However, the little bistro I mentioned earlier does not SKIM!  They apply it rather generously, I believe, along with some sprinkles of grated parmesan cheese, which adds these wonderful little cheesy crisps here and there as you take bites.  It's really rather naughty but I appreciate a little culinary mischief now and then.  You choose your level of naughtiness on this one! 

This is what came out about five minutes later.

From what I gather, a true panini is not supposed to be toasted, only pressed and steamed or warmed.  So take that for what it's worth.  My personal preference is for that little crunch at first bite so I give it a toast.  I love the visual of the layers of the colored veggies.  In fact, that was the primary goal in choosing which ones were invited!

I will provide a list of the ingredients I used for a quick reference, but the instructions have already been covered!

Song Pairing: 
Do I really need to draw the correlation here?  Touchin'?  Squeezin'?  The sultry syncopation of the introduction sets the seduction, I mean, stage, and gets you in the mood.  I suggest that you listen to the song as you eat, saving the final 1:35 "naa, naa, na, naa, naas" of the song to concentrate on and savor the cheesy, gooey, moist, "I need a napkin, here!" glory that this sandwich brings.   

Panini Ingredients
Sourdough or other artisan bread
Laughing Cow cheese wedges
Provolone Cheese
Bleu Cheese crumbles
Summer Squash
Orange Bell Pepper


  1. It is nine o'clock at night and you make me want to break out my panini press. Hands down one of my favorite foods. Thanks for the great suggestions!

  2. I think I need to come and visit. I am glad you started a blog.

  3. It's gonna be on the menu! I am wondering if eggplant could replace zuchini?

  4. Did anyone at the next table say "I'll have what she had"? I can't wait to try this. Time to break out the George Foreman Grill.

  5. @Lara-I'm thinking your having a panini press is what started my even noticing them!

  6. @Michelle - come on up! We could be my guest for a post! I'm sure we could come up with something fun!

  7. Brenda - it depends. Eggplant releases a lot of water and turns to mush if not treated with respect. Hence, ratatouille has a specific order in it's preparation to deal with that respect issue. Personally I'd say that zucchini is an easier option. But don't ignore eggplant!

  8. Tina - I wasn't noticing anybody else at the moment. I'm sure they looked the other way out of kindness ;-)